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June 29, 2012

Weekly Planner

Week 14

by Paul Sporer

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I have noticed that there are often times when players are listed as two-start pitchers but don’t end up following the plan and reappear on in the WP a week later. I apologize for these, but I am just going off of the data culled together from a few outlets. Obviously those outlets and myself are at the mercy of teams who make changes on a whim, so keep in mind that two-start pitchers are always tentative.

We’re off to a bumpy start in the AL with Matt Moore getting pushed back (and starting twice next week), Felipe Paulino suffering a setback in his rehab, and Felix Doubront getting knocked around by the Blue Jays. Justin Masterson survived Yankee Stadium but needs to be better against Baltimore to save his week.

Conversely, the Yankees had to be encouraged by Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes throwing gems given their rotation’s horrible week of news off the field. Jason Vargas had a great outing against the A’s that included a season-high 10 strikeouts.

I hope you leaned on the “sit” side for Justin Grimm, who I could only muster a “consider” for last week given his pair of starts in Arlington. Gavin Floyd and Luke Hochevar looked excellent in their first starts of the week. Floyd gets a trip to New York this weekend that could tell us a lot about whether or not he is really back, while Hochevar gets a Twins squad that Floyd carved up earlier in the week.

In the NL, neither Johan Santana nor Dillon Gee was particularly special in Chicago, but thankfully they get a neutered Dodgers offense this weekend to see if they can rebound. The Daniel Hudson saga came to an end this week as we finally learned that injury was a likely cause for his disastrous season… which is now over.

Both Jake Westbrook and Joe Blanton were sharp in their first start of the period, and now each faces the other’s first opponent for their second start, giving each a chance at a great week. Westbrook gets the Pirates, who aren’t doing anything at the dish these days, and Blanton gets the Marlins, who have been playing like an expansion team in June.

I don’t regret any of the “sit” decisions, as Arroyo still scares me with his penchant for yielding home runs and his uninspiring 6.1 K/9.

Auto-Starts: Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, James Shields, Jon Lester, and Dan Haren

I put Lester in the “auto-starts” during his last two-start week back on June 1, stating that this was do-or-die time and if he failed to get back on a Lesterian track then he was going to become a match-ups play. Since then, his ERA is just 4.01, but the 1.20 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, and 6.2 K/BB in 34 innings were enough for me (along with his history as an elite guy) to keep him here.

With another flameout on Thursday night (six runs in six innings), Haren is being put on notice. With four awful starts in a row, I am wondering if perhaps he is battling injury again. We saw him struggle mightily in early May when he dealt with a back issue before he righted the ship for four starts. You should inquire about getting Haren at a discount if you don’t own him; I am still confident overall, even though this rough stretch is frustrating.

Max Scherzer (vs. MIN; vs. KC)
Doug Fister (vs. MIN; vs. KC)
Jarrod Parker (vs. BOS; vs. SEA)
Roy Oswalt (@ CHW; vs. MIN)
Matt Moore (vs. NYY; @ CLE)
Ivan Nova (@ TB; @ BOS)
Jason Hammel (@ SEA; @ LAA)
Zach McAllister (vs. LAA; vs. TB)
Wei-Yin Chen (@ SEA; @ LAA)

Scherzer needed a quality start in Tampa Bay on Thursday to finally push his ERA below 5.00, but he also added seven more strikeouts in six innings, pushing his season total to 114 in 90 innings (11.4 K/9, the AL’s best). He and Fister get a pair of familiar foes next week that they should be able to handle if they keep pitching as they have been (Fister’s implosion in Arlington notwithstanding).

Nova had an incredible June, allowing more than one run just once in five starts en route to a 1.25 ERA in 36 innings to go with 27 strikeouts and just nine walks. The month was a refreshing change from his inconsistent May, during which he allowed five earned runs in four of his six outings.

Moore and Hammel have been rollercoasters this month, but there have been more ups than downs, making them worth a start even though each has a tough outing on tap. Thankfully, Moore’s bout with the Yankees is at home.

I was thrilled to see McAllister called back up; he was putting together some nice numbers when he was sent down (7.9 K/9, 3.7 K/BB in 25 IP), and he picked right back up in his return, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings with six punch outs and just a single walk. The Angels have developed into a scarier matchup, but they aren’t a “must-avoid,” and the Rays aren’t really scaring anyone right now as they shuffle in a handful reserves on most nights.

Ricky Romero (vs. KC; @ CHW)
Ubaldo Jimenez (vs. LAA; vs. TB)

Romero was included with Lester in that do-or-die announcement, and he hasn’t given up fewer than three runs in any outing since, culminating in a 7.33 ERA and 1.81 WHIP with as many strikeouts as walks (14).

Kevin Millwood (vs. BAL; @ OAK)
Brett Cecil (vs. KC; @ CHW)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (@ OAK; vs. NYY)
Everett Teaford (@ TOR; @ DET)
Freddy Garcia (@ TB; @ BOS)
Nick Blackburn (@ DET; @ TEX)

Yeah, no.

Auto-Starts: Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, James McDonald, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, and Tommy Hanson

McDonald was supposed to throw twice this week, according to the outlets that project two-start starters, but alas, he did not, so my welcome to the “auto-starts” was for naught. Let’s try again with his updated stats:

Welcome Mr. McDonald into the “auto-starts” category! Last week when I wrote this, he had 13 straight starts with three or fewer runs allowed (yes, that would have been all of his 2012 starts prior to Wednesday’s four-ER outing), which led me to say he can be trusted anywhere, anytime. Allowing four earned runs in 5 2/3 to the Phillies in Citizen’s Bank doesn’t change my opinion. Thus, welcome!

A.J. Burnett (vs. HOU; vs. SF)
Vance Worley (@ NYM; vs. ATL)
Tim Lincecum (@ WAS; @ PIT)
Jon Niese (vs. PHI; vs CHC)
Chris Capuano (vs. CIN; @ ARI)
Trevor Cahill (vs. SD; vs. LAD)
Trevor Bauer (vs. SD; vs. LAD)
Homer Bailey (@ LAD; @ SD)
Kyle Lohse (vs. COL; vs. MIA)

Burnett, McDonald’s partner in crime, is close to joining the “auto-starts” himself. Yes, I’m saying that the guy who gave up 12 earned runs in a start earlier this season is on the verge of becoming someone who is blindly trusted regardless of venue*. For now, he will sit atop the “starts.”

Lincecum threw his first true gem of the year with seven shutout innings against the hapless Dodgers, striking out eight and, more importantly, walking just two. Don’t discount it simply because it was against the hitting-starved Dodgers; Lincecum hasn’t been getting it done consistently against anyone this year. He now has a chance to get fat on three favorable matchups. Neither the Nats nor the Pirates are in contention because of their hitting, and in the case of the latter, they’re succeeding despite their lineup.

Bauer gave a taste of why my excitement for him was somewhat muted compared to others. I love the kid’s talent and think he can be truly special, but not necessarily right away. Not without some changes, at least. He simply isn’t pitch-efficient enough, and that was apparent in his debut as he needed 74 pitches to get through just four innings. He has amazing strikeout potential, but he walks too many batters, and major leaguers will punish him. That said, his second and third match-ups couldn’t be any juicier. Both Arizona Trevors are great starts next week.

*I reserve the right to exclude Coors from that grouping.

Christian Friedrich (@ STL; @ WAS)
Chad Billingsley (vs. CIN; @ ARI)
Marco Estrada (vs. MIA; @ HOU)
Andrew Cashner (@ ARI; vs. CIN)
Jeff Samardzija (@ ATL; @ NYM)

All five of these arms carry some appeal (listed below), but there is enough downside in various forms (also listed below) that leaves them on the fence and brings the decision down to your specific situation. If you are in tight ERA and WHIP battles, the implosion potential* of all five makes them risky propositions. If you are chasing strikeouts and wins, then you can see the upside in each. None of the 10 matchups are terrifying either, especially with Friedrich on the road, so tailor your decision to your specific league format and standings. Below, you’ll find each pitcher’s upside followed by his downside.

Friedrich: pitches outside of his home ballpark’s thin air; silly 75-pitch limit thing and a supporting offense that loses some punch on the road cut into win potential
Billingsley: big K numbers even in a shorter outing; has trouble going deep in games and gets little offensive support
Estrada: tons of Ks and very few walks; high flyball rate means he’ll give up his share of home runs
Cashner: fire-baller with major K potential and an outing in spacious Petco Park; unproven, as this will be his second and third real starts after transitioning from the bullpen
Samardzija: carried a 3.13 ERA and 9.3 K/9 through his first 11 starts; June (see for yourself)

*Yes any pitcher can implode at any time, but their implosion potential is significantly higher than many of their peers.

Joe Kelly (vs. COL; vs. MIA)
Clayton Richard (@ ARI; vs. CIN)
Jordan Lyles (@ PIT; vs. MIL)
Jair Jurrjens (vs. CHC; @ PHI)
Carlos Zambrano (@ MIL; @ STL)
Jeff Francis (@ STL; @ WAS)
Josh Outman (@ STL; @ WAS)

I need to see more before I trust Kelly. Meanwhile, WYSIWYG with Richard, and there is no real reason to waste a pair of starts or 10-12 innings (if you have either a starts or innings cap) on a guy who is unlikely to turn in even one win, let alone two. Lyles is a baby Richard right now.

I am a long way from trusting Jurrjens (like 60 scoreless innings in a row with a 10+ K/9), and there isn’t anything the other three can do to earn my trust short of an R.A. Dickey-ian transformation. Even then, I would be worried about putting Zambrano in my lineup, and the Francis and Outman would only get to throw 75 knuckleballs apiece.

Greinke, Weaver, Sale, Cueto, Shields, McDonald, Zimmermann, Haren, Lester, A.Sanchez, Hanson

Burnett, Worley, Scherzer, Fister, Parker, Lincecum, Niese, Capuano, Oswalt, Moore, Nova, Cahill, Hammel, Bauer,McAllister, W.Chen, Bailey, Lohse

Friedrich, Romero, Jimenez, Billingsley, Estrada, Cashner, Samardzija       

Kelly, Richard, Lyles, Millwood, Cecil, Dice-K, Teaford, Jurrjens, Garcia, Zambrano, Blackburn, Francis, Outman

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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